Military spending is the economic elephant in the middle of America’s living room. In 2006, we will commit roughly $500 billion to our armed services, an amount equal to the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. We’ll do so despite the evident reality that our “best-trained, best-equipped” force is neither trained nor equipped to counter the asymmetric threats we now face and expect to confront for the foreseeable future.
More than a decade after the demise of the Soviet Empire, and with no peer military competitor on the horizon, America is in an arms race with itself. That our defense industry has become a sacred cash cow should come as no surprise. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight David Eisenhower warned America:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
In perspective, the collusion between industry and the military is hardly a post-modern American phenomenon. It’s as old as the Industrial Age itself. Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (the elder) exploited 19th-century Europe’s transportation revolution to win the German Wars of Unification. Moltke also happened to be a part owner and director of one of Prussia’s largest railway lines.
In 21st-century America, however, we’ve refined this form of military-industrial “bedfellowing” to a fine art. You can’t count the hands of everyone who’s knocking down a piece of the defense pie because everyone’s hands are in somebody else’s pockets. It’s a complicated web to untangle, but we can get a sense of it by starting at the top of the arms business food chain.
Civilian service secretaries, appointed by the President, responsible for weapons and equipment acquisition, largely come from the executive ranks of the U.S. defense industry. Current Secretary of the Navy and Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England is a prime example. Before entering public life, England was a senior officer with defense giants General Dynamics and Lockheed Corporation. Donald Winter, nominated to replace England as Navy secretary, is a highly placed executive with Northrup Grumman, the world’s third largest military contractor.
Supporting these “captains of industry” are the military officers and senior enlisted personnel who establish second careers in the private defense sector as “beltway bandits.” Their's is a story well known around inner circles, but one seldom told outside of them.
Generals who manage doctrine and weapons programs late in their active-duty days retire from the military and go to work for the very corporations whose programs they sponsored while in uniform. The colonels, majors and sergeant majors who served under the generals retire as well and go back to work for their old bosses.
The retired guys work hand-in-purse with their still on-duty cronies — who are looking to stake out second careers themselves — to insert pet programs into so-called “battle experiments,” war games designed to determine how to fight future conflicts. The games get rigged to ensure that the pet programs prove victorious. Impressive after-action reports are written, contracts are signed, appropriations are passed in Congress, and the gravy caisson goes rolling along.
Headquartered in Norfolk, Va., Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s designated military transformation laboratory, specifically tasked to serve as “a significant voice in Pentagon acquisition circles. ” JFCOM takes its acquisition responsibilities seriously; so seriously that its Web site features a full-page ad titled “Partnering with us.”
JFCOM’s most infamous battle experiment to date was Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02). Conducted shortly before the invasion of Iraq, MC02’s purpose was to validate high-dollar weapons systems behind Rumsfeld-sanctioned transformation concepts like network-centric warfare, shock and awe, effects-based operations, and a host of other aphoristic notions that make little more sense to some military scholars and commanders than they make to the average convenience store clerk.
Here’s how The Guardian of London summarized the conduct of MC02:
At the height of the summer, as talk of invading Iraq built in Washington like a dark, billowing storm, the US armed forces staged a rehearsal using over 13,000 troops, countless computers and Dollars 250m. Officially, America won and a rogue state was liberated from an evil dictator.
What really happened is quite another story ….
In fact, this war game was won by Saddam Hussein, or at least by the retired marine playing the Iraqi dictator’s part, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper.
In the first few days of the exercise, using surprise and unorthodox tactics, the wily 64-year-old Vietnam veteran sank most of the US expeditionary fleet in the Persian Gulf, bringing the US assault to a halt….
Faced with an abrupt and embarrassing end to the most expensive and sophisticated military exercise in US history, the Pentagon top brass simply pretended the whole thing had not happened. They ordered their dead troops back to life and “refloated” the sunken fleet. Then they instructed the enemy forces to look the other way as their marines performed amphibious landings. Eventually, Van Riper got so fed up with all this cheating that he refused to play any more. Instead, he sat on the sidelines making abrasive remarks until the three-week war game […] staggered to a star-spangled conclusion on August 15, with a US “victory.”
From Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech:
The total influence [of the military-industrial complex] — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
And so is the very structure of American society today. The U.S. military-industrial complex influences every aspect of foreign and domestic policy. In peacetime, regional economies and political careers wholly depend on it. When America goes to war, defense-sector profits skyrocket, and the tab gets charged to the already staggering national debt.
Many argue that Ronald Reagan’s arms buildup in the 1980s was the “exhaustion strategy” that brought the Soviet Union to its economic knees. In the post-Soviet era, nobody’s competing with us symmetrically in the arms realm, or even seriously pretending to. Russia’s once-mighty arsenal is in disarray, and China’s defense spending is less than a quarter of ours.
So where’s the compelling need for America to bleed a half-trillion dollars of national treasure per year on the Department of Defense? If we were sticking it to the Soviet Union in the Reagan era with our extravagant defense spending, to whom are we sticking it now?
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ePluribus Contributors and Fact Checkers: DEFuning, Susie Dow, Lilnubber, Standingup and Sue in KY
Past Columns by Jeff Huber: Top 10 Bad Reasons for 'Staying the Course' in Iraq (and One Good One) and Wars and Empires